Before You Throw in the Towel

Sometimes all we want to do is throw in the towel and leave.

This is the second entry to a chapter in this series which deals with the messy and often uncomfortable realization that it may be time to leave your current employer. It can sneak up on us, we notice ourselves slowly losing mojo and motivation to show up with a quality of aliveness. It can also emerge in more jarring ways, by witnessing or being the subject of misconduct at work, leading to our whole system screaming “I have got to get out of this place.”

Image by Bernd Dittrich

The impulse to just uproot and leave is normal and we must heed the signals our bodies are sending us. When our careers and livelihoods are concerned however, the stakes are often high and there is no guarantee that the grass is indeed greener on the other side. Sometimes the rediscovery of joy is not about going to new places, but looking at where we are with fresh eyes.

In my own career, I stuck with the same employer for 25 years. Not out of fear of what the world would look like on the other side, but because (and I am fully aware that I was one of those “lucky ones”) I continued to look for and was granted access to a number of qualities that kept me feeling invigorated by the work I got to do. I wanted to share some of these qualities with you, in the hopes that they might help you rediscover the opportunities right in front of you.

Cross-functional mobility in-house

My academic roots are in finance and that is how I got my foot in the door with the company that would become my professional home for 25 years. Yet, I ended up changing positions and departments every 2.5 to 3 years on average. I went from finance to supply chain planning, from supply chain planning to sales and distribution positions, from sales to jobs in the marketing back-office, eventually ending up in regional and then global branding and innovation roles. I didn’t always know what I was doing, but I was curious. I was hungry to learn and reskill. I always thought that the potential for lateral mobility inherent to many large organizations was a perfect way to explore and truly discover what makes our hearts sing.

These opportunities don’t always fall from the sky and we sometimes have to fight for them, but if your current position or department doesn’t inspire you anymore, look around you and work with your management to devise a plan to get you to where you need to be. The worst thing that can happen is that these doors remain closed to you, which is when you will know that it is indeed time to look on the outside.

Increased responsibility and unlocking your potential

We often think about the promotion in terms of prestige and money. Don’t get me wrong, both are yummy and increased responsibility should be met with increased financial incentive. What I found most gratifying about them though were all the discoveries of self they afforded me. Learning the traits of both managing and leading (it is not the same!) a group of people, contributing to and witnessing their growth, was a magnificent experience. Moving from managing a group of people to teams of teams only kicked things up another notch.

With increased managerial responsibility also comes increased exposure to a different kind of decision-making and need to navigate organizational politics. Not always the most pleasant thing to do, yet providing for a new, complex and rich environment for me to evolve and build new muscle in places I didn’t know I could.

Who you get to learn from

One of the inarguably most overlooked qualities of any job is the caliber of people you are surrounded by. We’d all like to pretend that we are self-sufficient in how we motivate ourselves and solopreneur our way through life. But we are a species designed for life in complex social groups and work is no exception. Be it your peer group, your managers, your official and unofficial mentors, who we get the chance to surround ourselves with and learn from is a powerful force in our overall job satisfaction.

At times this just happens, like magic we find the right people that help lift us up. But at times, we can feel an acute lack thereof. I was fortunate to learn from brilliant minds and generous characters throughout my career. At times we would find each other, but at other times I would have to go look. Someone from another team or another department has caught your eye and somehow inspires you? Go! Invite them for coffee, see if they could mentor you or just become each other’s buddies at work and debrief about the challenges you encountered on a given day over coffee.

I consider my career with the company a blessing, a stretch of road filled with rich experiences and many opportunities put in my path. I was determined and always looking, but I was also lucky, a factor that we cannot disqualify.

What eventually led me to make plans to leave was a conversation I had with my manager at the time. I was asked to outline my vision for my future career progression with the company and I simply couldn’t articulate it. I had been to all the departments that interested me. I had become a manager and then a director. I had learned from the people I wanted to learn from. So it was time for me to go and find new adventures elsewhere.

If you find yourself lost and surrounded by seemingly closed doors, do give me a shout. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh set of eyes to show you where the key is hidden.

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